I’ve never been a fan of hardware reviews. A device could have everything — a great screen, fantastic speed, perfect form factor, superb build quality — and it still could be worthless if its ecosystem is flat or nonexistent. Content creators need to be around. If they aren’t, a new feature is just that; a feature. Who wants a tablet that has a crazy good GPU but no games that actually take advantage of it?
I’m more interested in how many apps support a device and how many content creators will continue to use unique features over the long haul. You can’t review that in any traditional way.
You see where I’m going, hopefully. iPad with Retina Display is cool. It’s faster, as heavy, and just as solidly built as its predecessor, but it’s hard to even begin to evaluate the device. All we have to look at are older games.
Adding to this is just how iterative iPad with Retina is. Outside of its new GPU, this iPad doesn’t have a lot differentiating features. The most notable for me is the lightning adapter add, and that’s not exactly exciting.
One thing I’ve noticed so far? Games load times are slightly faster on iPad with Retina Display compared to iPad 3 or iPad 2. It’s a matter of seconds. You can jump into FIFA 13 about two seconds before someone with an iPad 3 can, for example. The game doesn’t look any better on iPad 4, but it is snappier. Other games like NFS Most Wanted, Infinity Blade, The Room, and Epoch seem to also see better loading times on iPad 4.
What I’m not seeing is a game that totally takes advantage of the A6X. And it’s hard to tell when that game will happen. There’s a lot of iPads out in the wild, and most of them are not iPad 3s or iPad 4s. Rational game companies are probably going to spec their games for the older selection of devices out there first, and then maybe consider throwing some cool extras for people with newer devices — you know, bonus textures, shaders and stuff like that.
That’s not to say things like advanced lighting, increased frame rates, better aliasing and options like vsync aren’t a big deal. They can be. If you’ve recently played a PC port of a console game, it’s easy to see what these things bring to the table: more immersive, better functioning experiences. But it’s not like you’re missing anything mechanically if you choose to play a game like, say, Borderlands 2 on 360 instead of PC.
It’ll be interesting to see what developers do down the line, when we’ll see that oh my god you need to buy an iPad 4 or you’re an idiot kind of title. Will we see it in a few weeks? Months? Next year? Is it even financially sound to make a game that’ll push the limits of iPad 4? The expectation of consumers is that a game should cost almost nothing. Creating high-functioning, high-resolution games most certainly does not run a developer $0. I wish I had a crystal ball.
iPad 4 is definitely a capable iPad. It’s big, fast, has a beautiful screen, and all of that kind of stuff — but who didn’t expect that? The support is what’s up in the air, and that’s been kinda informing my opinion on the device as a whole so far. My impression is that it just feels really, really similar to iPad 3. It has potential to be something more, but at the moment it’s not.
A side-note: if you don’t have a retina iPad and iPad 4 might be your first, there’s a lot of exciting games on the App Store. NFS Most Wanted is probably the craziest looking one we’ve seen so far. Anomaly Warzone Earth, Real Racing 2 are also crazy. These titles do a great job stretching the known limits of games on iPad. If you’re upgrading from an older non-retina device these are titles you need.